As I’ve written before, I like the Dallas Stars to make the playoffs and do some serious damage once they’re there.
But they certainly have not got off to a strong start to the 2021-22 campaign. And although they’re currently on a two-game win streak – only the second time this season they’ve won more than one game in a row – it’s important to look at the Stars’ season and see if we can’t figure out what has been going on with them.
Dallas was expected by many to win with defense this season, and the Stars won its opening game of the season, then lost the next two. They then won two games in a row, before hitting a huge losing skid: from an Oct. 25th loss to Columbus to a Nov. 10th loss to Nashville, the Stars dropped four games in a row and six of seven games leading up to their current two-game win streak.
What was the constant for this 4-6-2 start to the year? The answer is “lack of offense”. In their first 12 games, the Stars managed to score more than two goals only three times. They have the seventh-worst goals-for average per game at 2.57, and their goaltenders and defense corps haven’t been able to bail them out, allowing an even 3.00 goals-against average (14th-worst in the league).
Stars netminders Anton Khudobin and Braden Holtby have had roller-coaster seasons thus far; Khudobin has a better record at 3-2-1 (Holtby’s mark is 2-4-1), but his save percentage (.897) and goals-against average (3.03) are worse than Holtby’s (.918 SP and 2.54 GAA). Holtby simply hasn’t had the goal support many of his fellow goalies around the league have received.
This is not to let Dallas’ defensemen off the hook for the sub-par start. They’ve got the fifth-worst penalty kill (73.3 percent effectiveness), and they don’t contribute much of anything on offense: young star D-man Miro Heiskanen has 10 assists and 13 points in 14 things, but after that, their next-most productive blueliner is veteran John Klingberg, who has…um, three assists in 10 games. Certainly, you’d hope for more from your group of defensemen, and if not, you’d hope they at least didn’t hurt the team in their own zone.
Similarly, the Stars’ forwards haven’t been able to provide crucial support in Dallas’ end, and that might be acceptable if they were lighting it up on offense. With the exception of their past two wins (when they’ve scored five goals in each win), they’ve been unable to do that. While it’s nice to see Heiskanen producing at nearly a point-per-game pace, you don’t want him to lead the entire team in points. However, that’s exactly what’s happened to Dallas. After Heiskanen, the Stars’ No. 2 pointgetter is veteran center Joe Pavelski, who has five assists and nine points in 14 games.
And after Pavelski comes forward Jason Robertson, who also has nine points. Then comes star center Tyler Seguin, who has only five goals and eight points in 14 games. First-year acquisition Ryan Suter also has eight points, which puts him one point ahead of star winger Alex Radulov and two points ahead of captain Jamie Benn (three goals and six points in 14 games). Again, you don’t want your defensemen to be amongst the team leaders in point production, but that’s what’s been happening to a degree in Dallas.
The Stars’ current win streak has seen them beat the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings – two competitive groups, but neither one is seen as a true Stanley Cup frontrunner. The truer test comes in their next four games, when they take on the Wild in Minnesota, then host the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. Stars GM Jim Nill has turned this team into a salary-cap-ceiling group, but he needs to see progress, and soon, before he deals with the possibility of dealing away pieces.
Dallas still has time to build up some momentum and get on a roll before the March 21st trade deadline. What they can’t do is continue to squeeze their sticks too hard and frustrate themselves on the offensive end. They need to give their goalies a little breathing room.
We knew the Stars would be leaning on their defense to win games, but it shouldn’t be this hard for this team to score goals.